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PMAB approves Governance Task Force recommendations

Operational recommendations to be reviewed in lead-up to General Assembly 223

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
additional reporting by Rick Jones

Samuel Son preaches the sermon “Breakfast at Galilee” at the opening of Thursday’s Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting in Louisville. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE — The much-anticipated report from the Governance Task Force (GTF) of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) came up for discussion and debate during today’s open plenary of the group’s February meeting.

Samuel Son, manager for diversity and reconciliation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), preached a sermon titled “Breakfast at Galilee” from John 20 during the open worship service. Son recalled favorite times at breakfast with his worshiping community as a young boy and related it to Jesus serving his disciples a breakfast of fish and break after a large catch when they had “cast their nets on the other side.”

Service to one another, Son emphasized, is the core of Jesus’ message, and a continued call for the church to fulfill in the world.

Governance Task Force report discussion

Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA), speaks at the February 2017 PMAB meeting in Louisville. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Addressing the role and composition of the PMAB, the GTF report and its recommendations took a broad sweep at reforming the functions of the board and its relation to the work of the agency, specifically the role of the PMA executive director.

Citing core values of “mindfulness of justice and peace, diversity and inclusion, creativity, collaboration, transparency, impact, and faithful stewardship,” GTF members began their discussion of proposed changes to the structure and operation of the board and agency.

First, a change in the designation of the PMA executive director was proposed. The position is currently titled CEO, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The GTF recommended a change in title to “President/Executive Director” to better define the role the executive director serves within the Mission Agency and as president of the A Corp.

Task Force member Conrad Rocha also introduced a change to the process used to derive the PMA budget. Rather than looking at available funds and fitting programs into that dollar amount, the GTF recommended that the PMAB, with input from the General Assembly, identify five priorities for the Mission Agency as the framework for what the PMA is to accomplish in a given budget cycle.

Molly Baskin brought forward a change to the designation of the Executive Committee — the eight PMAB members who make top-level decisions for the entire board to consider. She said modifications to the current structure, and renaming the Executive Committee to the Coordinating Committee under the smaller proposed board size of 20 instead of 40, will ensure that every board member serves in various representative roles.

Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the PC(USA), asked if the leadership cabinet of the PMA, made up of ministry area directors, was consulted on the proposed recommendations. Leadership cabinet members affirmed they were not consulted, which led Edmiston to propose that a vote on the changes be delayed until such a consultation could occur.

Vicki Garber, ecumenical advisory member to the PMAB, calls on board members to pause to consider their deliberation on the Governance Task Force recommendations. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

In response, Baskin amended her motion for approval of the report, limiting the recommendation for approval to sections one and five, which concern board composition and function, and changes to the Manual of Operation. These sections require approval by the General Assembly and need to be submitted by the Feb. 20 deadline for consideration. The excluded sections (2–4) do not concern issues needing approval by the Assembly and are open to revision in consultation with input from the leadership cabinet.

“Many of you must feel like you are drinking out of a fire hydrant right now,” board member Gregory Chan said in response to the length and detail contained in the report. “We were asked by the chair to tackle this a couple of years ago. I called several of you and left messages and you didn’t call me back. Life sometimes takes over. I’m not pointing fingers, life has taken us over and giving our full attention to this is very difficult. … We’re trying to beat a path to a better way of doing our business and that is the bottom line. We want to work with anybody and we’re not trying to do harm, we’re trying to make a difference and make our time more effective. This is a huge board and it’s an overwhelming board that has a hard time getting things done.”

Puerto Rico update

A motion to postpone the vote on the Governance Task Force recommendation following a short break was approved, giving time for nuances to be discussed. After the break, Puerto Rican board members Raul Felipe Santiago-Riviera and Rafael Medina gave an update on the church’s role in the island’s recovery efforts.

“We have delivered 50,000 meals in the past five months,” said Santiago-Riviera. “Approximately 40 percent of the population in Puerto Rico is still without power. We didn’t have enough water, but we were able to share what we have. But despite the damage, the resilience of the church and people came out. We will survive and continue preaching the gospel with the love and compassion that God has taught us.”

Governance Task Force report conclusion

Marci Auld Glass asks for provisional approval of the disputed sections of the Governance Task Force report. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Amendments to add two ecumenical advisory delegates to the PMAB, increasing the total voting members of the revised board from 20 to 22, and continue deployment of board members to the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations (GACEIR), were approved (22–10 and 16–13, respectively) before the board voted unanimously to forward pertinent recommendations (I and V) to General Assembly 223 for approval.

Technicalities of the approved and not approved sections within the GTF recommendations caused significant debate and delay as the discussion continued. A variety of amendments were made, addressing certain sections of the recommendations to go into effect so the board could conduct its business as planned. An overall amendment proposed by Marci Auld Glass asked for provisional approval of the disputed sections passed with the understanding that these sections would be revisited prior to presentation to General Assembly 223.


Per capita recommendation vote

The Committee on the General Assembly and the Executive Committee of the PMAB met over lunch via conference call to discuss and vote on yesterday’s proposal on the per capita budget and allocations for 2019 and 2020.

Recommendation: The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Executive Committee and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly recommend that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board: 

A. Approve the revised 2018 Per Capita Expense Budget totaling $14,214,859.
B. Approve the 2019 Per Capita Expense Budget totaling $15,565,241 and the 2020 Per 
Capita Expense Budget totaling $15,818,969.
C. Approve a requested
1. Per Capita rate of $10.71 for 2019.
2. Per Capita rate of $11.45 for 2020.
D. Approve an amount of $1,448,693 be designated from the 2019 Per Capita budget for the 

224th General Assembly (2020).
E. Approve Designated Budget expenditures of $1,211,461 for 2019 and $1,731,808 for 2020.

A motion was received and seconded from COGA to approve the recommendations, leading to discussion prior to the vote.

Ken Godshall, PMAB chair, expressed concern that the proposed per capita increase of 39 percent in 2019 is “quite large” and would not be well received by congregations and presbyteries.

“It’s time to ask for what we need, not just what we think can get us by,” responded COGA member Carol McDonald, noting that the per capita budget has been underfunded for several years.

“This is a very significant ask,” said Joseph Morrow, concurring with the need while wondering if the increase takes necessary funds away from congregations and presbyteries. “This will have an impact on their reach and ministry. On the other hand, there’s great potential in the ministries and programs proposed by this budget.”

“This is a faith issue, it’s not an issue of money,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), adding that the budget increase allows the Office of the General Assembly “to do something that will instill confidence” in the membership of the denomination.

“We’re playing from behind and if we want to rebuild and strengthen this church to create a growing denomination, we need to take this step,” he continued. “This adds up to one dollar per month per member. Are we still wedded to a connectional system and that the strong should be helping the weak? We are not a poor denomination — it takes money to strengthen our church.”

The groups voted separately to have the recommendations considered by the PMAB for approval and forwarding to General Assembly 223. The PMAB Executive Committee voted down the proposal, 1-7; nine COGA members approved the recommendation, zero disapproved and there was one abstention. The tally of the vote, 10–7, allows the per capita budget recommendations to be taken up by the PMAB for a vote tomorrow morning.

The PMAB continues its meeting later today with program committee meetings and further discussion of the PMAB and A Corp, along with the Mission Work Plan implementation and ministerial work group reports.

The February 2018 meeting of the PMAB concludes tomorrow at noon.

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